Microsoft Unleashes Forefront Security Suite

The software giant is looking to edge out third parties with its big new foray into security, which includes anti-virus and anti-spyware for the client and two server offerings. Analysts

November 14, 2006

5 Min Read
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Microsoft is muscling into the security market, lifting the lid on its Forefront security suite of products at its TechEd conference in Spain.

While several industry analysts said it's an important first step for Microsoft, Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, said it will take some time before Microsoft is in a position to own the security market.

Microsoft's new Forefront suite includes antivirus and anti-spyware for the client, two server security products, and a product that sits on the edge of the network. This signals Microsoft's plunge into the growing and competitive security market to take on major players such as CA, McAfee, and Symantec.

"If you look at security, there are a number of point players but no one offers a comprehensive left-to-right view of security," said Andy Lees, Microsoft's corporate VP for server and tools marketing. "Some do desktop security, some services security, and others provide security for the edge of the network. We saw an opportunity to offer the customer a much more comprehensive suite of products to be integrated together and easier to manage."

Natalie Lambert, an analyst with Forrester Research, said this is a good direction for Microsoft as it enters the security market. "But they are quite a ways away from having a competitive security suite right now," she added. "There's really no couching that."The product announcement came from Bob Muglia, senior VP of Microsoft's server and tools business, during his keynote at TechEd & IT Forum 2006 in Barcelona, Spain. He told the audience there that Microsoft Forefront Client Security, a product designed to protect business desktops, laptops, and server operating systems from viruses and spyware, now is available in public beta. It's expected to be released to manufacturing in the second quarter of 2007.

Microsoft is launching two new server security products, Microsoft Forefront Security for Exchange Server and Microsoft Forefront Security for SharePoint, which are currently in public beta, and are slated to be available in December. Lees said the products stem from Microsoft's 2005 acquisition of Sybari and its Antigen products.

Microsoft also is launching new Application Optimization features for the Intelligent Application Gateway, which is a remote access solution that combines SSL-based application access (SSL VPN), a Web application firewall, and endpoint security management. Microsoft also announced an updated Microsoft SharePoint Portal Optimizer and a new Microsoft Dynamics CRM Optimizer. These new features are designed to provide customized, policy-based access, content inspection, and improved performance for secure remote access to Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0 and Microsoft SharePoint products and technologies.The suite of products is fairly rudimentary, according to Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, an industry research firm.

"Microsoft wanted to take the security platform back," he said. "When they gave up security, it was a foolish thing to do. The third-party security firms took it up and for a long time Microsoft was content to let them do all the work. It just wasn't interesting to them. Now the security firms are motivated to break Microsoft products And Microsoft has concluded, rightly so, they need to own the security platforms."

But Enderle said it will take some time before Microsoft is in a position to own the security market -- the product suite is just too basic out of the starting gate.But what it does do well is fit in with Microsoft's operating system platform, especially the upcoming Vista release. And when it comes time to patch the system, that could be a handy advantage, Enderle said.

"It's highly integrated into the Microsoft platform so it's unlikely that patches and updates will cause problems or be blocked by it," he added. "Third-party security products often get in the way of Microsoft patches. They might think they're foreign and treat them as hostile. With this, it's highly unlikely that they'll be treated as hostile."

Judith Hurwitz, president of Hurwitz & Associates, an industry analyst firm, said with Vista coming out, it's "vital" for Microsoft to position itself as a security player.

"They're clearly trying to position Vista as having solved the security holes and problems," she added. "I think they feel they have to be there. You have to look at security from a much broader enterprise perspective."

Hurwitz said the Forefront suite may get picked up early on simply as an add-on buy when IT managers are migrating to the Vista operating system. She said some managers will think since it's from Microsoft and supports the new operating system out of the box, they'll go with it to simplify their lives.Both Lambert and Enderle think it will take quite a bit of time for the Forefront products to mature to the point where the enterprise will be interested.

Forrester's Lambert said for any IT manager looking for an antivirus or anti-spyware product, they should put Forefront on the short list. It stacks up against its competitors. But beyond that, Microsoft needs to add in a personal firewall, host IPS capabilities, information leakage protection, and encryption, she noted. Some of those features, like encryption, will be included in Vista, but she said they need to be part of the suite where they can be centrally managed. She also added that the products simply need a little time to be fleshed out and mature.

"It is not a complete suite today," she said. "I would tell [IT managers] to look for a more comprehensive solution today. Microsoft will have one in the future. If you just want antivirus, this is great. But if you need protection against hackers and zero-day malicious code, this just isn't going to cut it."

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